A Sergeant, abbreviated to Sgt. (also spelt Serjeant and abbreviated to Sjt.) is a military rank in the British Army, Royal Marines and other armed forces around the world, including that of policing forces. In the British Army it generally falls between the ranks of Corporal and Sergeant Major. Its origin is the Latin serviens, "one who serves", through the French term sergent.
The rank dates back to the 13th Century where the specific sense of "military servant" is synonymous with that of an "officer whose duty is to enforce judgments of a tribunal or legislative body." A sergeant-at-arms is attested from the late 14th Century and from the 1540's, Sergeant is defined as a "non-commissioned military officer." Originally, it was seen as a much more important rank than its use in present day. Sergeant has been is use as a police rank since 1839.
The term "Sergeant" still refers to a non-commissioned officer placed above the rank of a Corporal and a police officer immediately below a Lieutenant. In most armies the rank of Sergeant corresponds to command of a squad (or section). In Commonwealth armies, it is a more senior rank, corresponding roughly to a platoon second-in-command. In the United States Army, Sergeant is a more junior rank corresponding to a four-soldier fireteam leader.
The Royal Marines and British Army
A sergeant in the Royal Marines and British Army wears three point-down chevrons on their sleeve and usually serves as a platoon or troop sergeant, or in a specialist position. Staff Sergeant (in technical units) or Colour Sergeant (In the Royal Marines and the infantry), is the next most senior rank, above which come warrant officers. The Household Cavalry use the rank of corporal of horse instead, the only regiments to preserve the old cavalry tradition of having corporals but not sergeants.
A Lance Sergeant (L/Sgt.) was formerly a Corporal acting in the capacity of a Sergeant. The appointment now survives only in the Foot Guards and Honourable Artillery Company, where it is awarded to all corporals. A Lance Sergeant wears three chevrons and belongs to the sergeants' mess, however, functionally he remains a Corporal rather than an acting sergeant (e.g., he will typically command a section). In the Household Cavalry, the equivalent appointment is Lance Corporal of horse.
A sergeant in infantry regiments usually holds the appointment of "platoon sergeant" and is second in command of a platoon. Until 1953, the official spelling was "Serjeant", although the present-day spelling "Sergeant" was already commonly in use by the First World War and the official spelling was rarely used outside official documents. The Rifles, however, still always use the spelling Serjeant", as did The Light Infantry before them.
The Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force also has the rank of Sergeant, wearing the same three chevrons. The rank lies between Corporal and Flight Sergeant (or chief technician for technicians and musicians). Between 1950 and 1964 in technical trades there was a rank of senior technician which was the equivalent of a Sergeant. Senior technicians wore their chevrons point up.
On 1 July 1946, aircrew sergeants were re-designated as aircrew IV, III or II, replacing the chevrons with one, two or three six-pointed stars within a wreath and surmounted by an eagle. This was unpopular and in 1950 they returned to the old rank, but have worn an eagle above their chevrons ever since.
Sergeants of the Royal Flying Corps wore a four-bladed propeller above their chevrons. The spelling "Serjeant" was never used in the Royal Air Force.
References / notes
Glossary of terms and customs
This page forms part of our glossary of words and phrases of the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom of Great Britain during the Great War, which also includes: technicalities, trench slang, expressions in everyday use, nicknames, sobriquets, the titles and origins of British and Commonwealth Regiments, and warfare in general. Please feel free to help expand and improve this content.
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